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A New Deal With the South Korean Government is Designed to Help Korean Comfort Women

Yun Byung-se, the South Korean Foreign Minister, and Fumio Kishida, the Japanese Foreign Minister reached a deal regarding the comfort women issue on December 28th of 2015. The deal has since been implemented by both countries, and the Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing was established by the government of South Korea on July 28th of 2016. This organization is not part of the government, and they are providing assistance to surviving South Korean comfort women, in addition to the relatives of any who are deceased. Approximately $9 million has been provided to the Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing after a cabinet meeting. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also promised an additional $90,000 to the surviving Korean comfort women, and the families of those deceased.

Controversy regarding the deal remains from a part of the Korean society. This is because they want the payment to be compensatory instead of consolatory. Compensation would require the Japanese government taking responsibility for crimes during the war, and making payment to these women. The comfort women stories include arguments that the government of South Korea had no right to make a deal without their consent, and the belief an apology from the Japanese government is the only way they can retrieve their dignity.

A coalition of civil society groups in South Korea present more opposition. They have rejected the deal, and called it a diplomatic humiliation. The Foundation for Justice and Remembrance has been established as to counter the Foundation for Reconciliation and Peace established by the government of South Korea. They want voluntary donations from within Korea to replace the disbursements from the government. Comfort women testimonies state more Statues of Peace will be installed not only in South Korea, but worldwide. These statues depict young comfort women, and the government of Japan is sensitive regarding these statues. They want them removed.

More obstacles concerning the deal resulted from the parliamentary election in South Korea. For the very first time in sixteen years, the majority was lost by the ruling party. The deal is opposed by the chairwoman, and chairman of both opposition parties. An Cheol-soo is the presidential hopeful for the People’s Party leader, and against the deal. As the elected chairwoman, Choo Mi-ae sees the deal as a catastrophe. This places even more obstacles in the path of President Park Geun-hye during her remaining time in office.

Despite the opposition, South Korea has no intention of abandoning, or renegotiating the deal. This would damage their diplomatic conduct, and credibility with Japan, and other nations. The deal is not simply an issue between Japan, and South Korea, but the implementation has become a sensitive issue within South Korea. Park must find a way to not only stand up against the opposition, but integrate them directly into the process of implementation. The surviving women, the civil society groups, the families of the deceased women, and all the parties in opposition must be persuaded by the Park administration to become participants in the process for implementation. Although this is an extremely difficult task, if the perception gap is unable to be breached, seeds of discord will be sown by the Korean women. This could result in an impasse for any future Japan-Korea relations.

Most of the experts see the deal as the perfect example of successful diplomacy. The success is still dependent on Park’s ability to resolve the disagreements present in Korean society. If this is not accomplished, the implementation of the deal will not be effective. The deal is designed to provide the women with a new place to start reconciling the historical legacies in the relations between Japan, and Korea, and begin a future of promising bilateral relations.